Sure, we love our Ravens and never tire of cheering on the O’s, but let’s not forget that signature sport that is as Maryland as crabs, Bergers cookies, and the Chesapeake Bay—that would be lacrosse, naturally. And on high school playing fields across the region, the season roars in like a lion every March, with the top teams getting yet another chance to best their historic rival.
With the ball flying at more than 100 miles per hour, lacrosse is one of the fastest-moving sports, and the fastest-growing one in America. Thousands of Baltimore-area families live and breathe lacrosse all season. For them, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is to see their star player make varsity in high school and watch his or her team win the state championship. Better still? A scholarship to some Division I college.
Of course, you can look at the league standings from last year and pretty much guess who most of the top high school teams will be. But we looked closer, trying to pinpoint the individual players who make those teams a worthy opponent. And in the process, we discovered a few fun sides to the sport, which influences its fans in lots of ways, from food to fashion, and even philanthropy.
Face-off Middie, Dulaney High School
Complete this sentence: “The biggest misconception about lacrosse players is . . . ” That they are all knuckleheads who don’t try academically and just party. I try to be the opposite of this stereotype, with a 3.6 GPA, and try to be a role model for my younger brother and my teammates. What are you most proud of on the field? Being named First Team all-county my junior year as a face-off middie. I also scored the game-tying goal in a very competitive game against John Carroll School last year that we eventually won. Who’s your toughest opponent? Hereford High and Towson High.
Midfield, Gilman School
What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? Being named All-MIAA (Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association) in the 2016 season. What college will you be attending, and will you play there? The University of Maryland, and, yes, I will. What other sports are you into? I also play football—it’s one of the best sports you can play to become a better lacrosse player. Do you think you’d make a good lacrosse coach someday? Yes, I have the same passion for the game as my mentor and coach Brooks Matthews. I think I could pass this knowledge on to the next generation.
Goalie, St. Paul’s School
You’re highly ranked among high school goalies in the region and nation. Can you tell us how you got that ranking? (Did we hear something about 258 saves?) I was lucky that the right people saw me at the right times and thought that I played well. When did you start playing lacrosse? At the age of 5, I played rec lacrosse. Did we hear you’re a three-sport athlete? Yes, I play football, ice hockey, and lacrosse. What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? When St. Paul’s beat Calvert Hall on alumni day at St. Paul’s. Who’s your toughest opponent? Boys’ Latin.
Midfield, St. Paul’s School for Girls
What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? My best game was seven goals and three assists against Maryvale.When did you start playing lacrosse? When I was 6 years old. What do you love about the sport? The competitiveness—and I’m always happy when I’m playing. What’s your main goal this season? Winning a championship, although that will be hard against reigning champion McDonogh. Do you think you’d make a good lacrosse coach someday? I would, because I have a strong understanding and love for the game. What are the most important physical attributes of a good lacrosse player? Speed, skill, and strength.
Midfield, Century High School
Okay, so how did you hurt yourself? I injured my knee playing in a tournament. What’s your best accomplishment on the field? Tying a game to save us from losing. There were 15 seconds left and I had the ball. My first instinct, when the whistle blew, was to sprint. I ran through basically their whole team and scored with 3 seconds left to bring our team into overtime. What’s your main goal this season? To overcome my injury and come back to the sport stronger than ever. What’s the biggest misconception about lacrosse players? Everyone has a scholarship waiting for them after high school.
Midfield, Bryn Mawr School
What’s your best moment on the field? When you come in as an underdog and no one’s expecting you to win, but you do. How do you handle losing? It can be tough sometimes, but everyone has to be able to come together and pick each other up. Teams shine in the face of adversity. If you could take one celebrity on a date to a lacrosse game, who would it be? Zac Efron. How do you see lacrosse translating to the workplace? Skills I’ve learned like leadership and being able to rely on other people will serve me really well when I go into the real world.
Face-off, Boys’ Latin School
Do you think you’d make a good lacrosse coach someday? Maybe I would because my father was my lacrosse coach most of my career, so I live with a coach! What other sports are you into? I love football and wrestling. Complete this sentence: More people would love lacrosse if . . . If the rules stopped changing every so often. What are the most important physical attributes of a good lacrosse player? Being conditioned and tough, while keeping a cool composure. And, obviously, having the techniques down. Who’s your toughest opponent? For the past couple of years, it’s been McDonogh.
Midfield, Garrison Forest School
If you couldn’t play lacrosse, which sport do you think you’d be best in? Basketball. I’ve played since I was in kindergarten. I play point guard. What famous athlete do you think would make a great lacrosse player? Grayson Allen, a Duke basketball player, is a really great athlete. I think he’d make a good lacrosse player too. What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? Last year, we won our first playoff game in overtime. I scored the winning goal. What’s the biggest misconception about lacrosse players? For girls lacrosse, especially, that there’s not too much contact. There’s a fair amount.
Pack Up The Lax Snacks
Need an energy boost? Whether on the field or the sidelines, here are your emergency rations, according to pro player Chris Mattes and Jessica Bieber, brand manager for women’s lacrosse for Baltimore-based STX.
Defense, Hereford High School
What’s your main goal this season? To help bring the state championship title back to Hereford. What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? Making the Maryland Free-state Top 22 team as a freshman and making it to State Semis the past two years. What’s the biggest misconception about lacrosse players? That they’re bad and struggle academically. Many of my teammates are enrolled in honors and AP-level classes and love to give back to the community. How do you see your lacrosse experience translating to the workplace or helping your career? Time requirements of school, practice, and games have helped me learn to improve time management.
Midfield, Maryvale Preparatory School
What do you like about the sport? It’s so popular in the Baltimore area that it kind of turns into a showcase for individual players. If you couldn’t play lacrosse, which sport do you think you’d be best in? I started playing field hockey sophomore year and I love it. What’s your main goal this season? Our past couple seasons haven’t been strong. If we have a positive attitude and team mentality, then we’ll have a good season. What lessons has lacrosse taught you for the workplace? Playing in such a competitive league has shown me I really have to work to earn my spot.
Defense, Marriotts Ridge High School
What are the attributes of a good player? Being agile, fast, and strong always helps. A mustache or some intimidating eye black never hurts, either. What’s the biggest misconception about lacrosse players? Not every lacrosse player has a mullet and models for Vineyard Vines in their free time. When did you start playing? At age 6, after I realized I disliked baseball because of its slow pace. What do you love about the sport? Being active all 60 minutes of the game. Also, there aren’t many times you can hit someone with a metal pipe and it’s okay. Would you date a lacrosse player? Of course! You already have something to talk about on that awkward first date.
Defense, McDonogh High School
If you could change one thing about the game, what would it be? I wish defensemen got more opportunities to score. What famous athlete do you think would make a great lacrosse player? Ed Reed in his prime, because of the way he sees the field and how athletic he is. What’s your main goal this season? To go undefeated, win another championship. How do you handle losing? Not very well. But it motivates me to work harder. What celebrity would you take on a date to a game? A young Jennifer Lopez. Who’s your toughest opponent? It’s always Boys Latin. They’re very well-coached. Their offense always clicks.
Midfield/Defense, C. Milton Wright High School
What’s the biggest misconception about lacrosse players? A lot of people think we actually enjoy running. I don’t think so—it’s just something we have to do! What’s your biggest accomplishment on the field so far? Helping my team advance to state semifinals by calling a stick-check on a girl in double overtime! We came back to win the game in triple overtime. College you’ll be attending? The United States Naval Academy, where I’ll be playing lacrosse. Who’s your toughest opponent? Glenelg High School. Complete this sentence: More people would love lacrosse if . . . Some people say they don’t understand the rules, and therefore, don’t like watching it.
Junior Defense, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School
How badly does it hurt to be hit by the ball? As a close defenseman, it’s not uncommon to get hit by the ball and it hurts pretty badly. I’ve had a ton of bruises and have actually broken my hand from being hit by a shot. What do you love about the sport? I love that no matter what size you are, if you put in the time and work every day you can be a great player. What other sports are you into? I love football, basketball, skiing, and golf. Would you ever date a lacrosse player? Yes, my girlfriend plays lacrosse at Good Counsel, too.
MidField, Calvert Hall
What other sports do you like playing? I played basketball through the eighth grade, and played football in high school my freshman and junior year. Both have helped me on the lacrosse field. Kids shouldn’t try to start specializing in one sport too early. Complete this sentence: More people would love lacrosse if . . . It was introduced into populations that did not have it. Also, the game is expensive, between gear and tournaments. Would you ever date a lacrosse player? Yes. Girls that play the same sport as you understand your schedule, how you have practice all the time and workouts.
Attack, Severn School
How do you see lacrosse translating to the workplace? Although lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport, it is still a very close-knit community, which allows a great network of opportunities. What’s your biggest accomplishment on the field so far? I was 2016 Anne Arundel County Player of the Year, Inside Lacrosse’s #60 Junior, and I was in the MIAA semifinals in 2016. What college will you be attending? University of Pennsylvania, where I’ll be playing lacrosse. What’s the biggest misconception about lacrosse players? People think lacrosse is only popular on the East Coast, but there is recently a ton of talent coming out of the West.
Attack, Calvert Hall
Would you make a good lacrosse coach? My dad being a coach, I’ve been able to watch him do his thing over the years and I feel like I have a pretty decent lacrosse IQ. What are your biggest accomplishments on the field? Tournaments I’ve won with my club team and the MIAA games we’ve won as a team at Calvert Hall. What are the most important attributes for the sport? It depends on the position: Attack men typically have to be pretty quick and explosive, while defensemen have to be strong.
Defense, Loyola Blakefield
What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? It was getting cut from JV and playing freshman lacrosse that year to starting on varsity the following year. What college will you be attending? I am committed to the United States Naval Academy, where I’ll be playing lacrosse. What’s the biggest misconception about lacrosse players? It’s that players pick up a stick at age 4, as I did, and only play that sport. But a lot of us play many other sports. I really like basketball, football, and water polo. Who is your toughest opponent? McDonogh. This team works very well with moving the ball.
Midfield, Mercy High School
What famous athlete do you think would make a great lacrosse player? Ray Lewis, because of his mentality. He’s a really great leader. He can probably do anything he puts his mind to. What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? Last year I was all-conference. Where do you not want to get hit, aside from the obvious? I assume the head. Other than that you deal with bruises and you go on. What’s your main goal this season? We’re winning the conference this year one way or another. Who’s your toughest opponent? This year it will probably be Park or Friends.
Midfield, Glenelg Country School
What’s your best accomplishment on the field so far? I was named scholar-athlete of the spring season last year at my school. Do you think you’d make a good lacrosse coach someday? I hope so. My dad has been my coach since I was 5. It really helps to have your dad know the game so well. If you couldn’t play lacrosse, which sport do you think you’d be best in? Probably soccer. I played defense this year. What famous athlete do you think would make a great lacrosse player? Randy Moss would be good. He’s really tall and really athletic.
Face-off specialist, Park School
What famous athlete do you think would make a great lacrosse player? I’d want to see LeBron James as a lacrosse player. The endurance he has in basketball, the kind of mentality he has, I think he could dominate in lacrosse. If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be? Because I’m a face-off specialist, I feel like there’s always something being changed with the face-off rules. I’d like to see a little less regulation. What are the most important physical attributes of a good lacrosse player? You definitely need to have endurance and stamina—mentally, and physically.
Defense, Friends School of Baltimore
If you could take one celebrity on a date to a lacrosse game, who would it be? Jennifer Aniston. Who’s your toughest opponent? John Carroll School. They have a lot of depth and speed. When did you start playing lacrosse? When I was about 5 or 6. If you couldn’t play lacrosse, which sport do you think you’d excel in? Soccer. What’s your main goal this season? To win the championship. How do you see your lacrosse experience helping in the workplace? We put in a lot of hard work. That will really translate into the workplace because working hard will help you be successful.
Looking the Part
Want to fit in fashion-wise with the lax crowd? For the ladies, we’ve got a few sartorial pointers from star player Alyssa Murray, a member of Baltimore-based Team STX, as well as a Team USA attackman, a First Team All-American, and the second-all-time leading scorer at Syracuse University. And for you guys, we’ve got tips from pro MLL player Chris Mattes, a member of Team STX, a Florida Launch midfielder, and a University of Maryland men’s lacrosse volunteer coach.
America's First Sport Goes Downtown
Whenever 16-year-old JoJo Bright has a few free minutes, you can probably find him outside with his lacrosse stick in hand, cradling a ball, then firing it at a goal. Again and again.
Bright is not a small kid. A ninth-grader at Severna Park High School, he’s just shy of 6 feet, weighing in at 250 pounds. If his body type sounds more suited to football, well, he did play linebacker and a little running back for the Falcons varsity team this season. But it’s lacrosse—a sport he knew next to nothing about just three years ago—that’s captured his imagination.
“People think, ‘He’s big, he can’t do certain things,’” Bright says. “It does take time and effort to be great at lacrosse. I [appreciate] all the finesse skills it takes.”
Like hundreds of kids who grew up in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Baltimore, Bright was introduced to the game through Charm City Youth Lacrosse, a nonprofit dedicated to growing the game in the city. Five-hundred children ages 4 to 14 take part in the organization’s free programming, and 85 percent of them, including Bright, are African-American.
Susie Chase once sat on Charm City’s board. Now vice president of philanthropy and partnerships at US Lacrosse, she believes the sport can transform young people’s lives.
“It can lead to academic improvement and reduction of behavioral incidents in the classroom,” she says.
In 2016, US Lacrosse provided grants and continued support for 128 teams through its First Stick program.
Bright is exactly the kind of kid those programs are trying to reach. Through Charm City Youth Lacrosse he met Paul Intlekofer, a member of that organization’s board of directors, with whom he now lives.
“I was used to growing up in poverty and seeing a lot of tough things,” Bright says. “I have been blessed with an opportunity to get away from that environment.”
Opening in a gleaming new Sparks headquarters in September after relocating from Baltimore, the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum is packed full of history, memorabilia (including one of two Tewaaraton Award trophies—college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman), and gear, like early wooden sticks handmade by Native Americans, who invented the game.
At the back of the museum sits the Hall of Fame, a wall of plaques with the photos and accomplishments of the greatest to ever play the game. According to an unofficial count by the museum’s curator, Joe Finn, 154 of the 416 members are from Maryland. Here’s a roundup of the most notable ones.
J. Douglas Radebaugh
This Calvert Hall grad was a three-time All-American at the University of Maryland who won the Lt. Donald McLaughlin Jr. Award in 1975 as the nation’s outstanding midfielder.
A graduate of St. Paul’s School and then The Johns Hopkins University, he coached Hobart College to three NCAA Division II and III national championships in 1972, 1976, and 1977.
Known as “Mickey,” he attended The Boys’ Latin School before becoming a three-time All-American at Johns Hopkins and co-captain of the university’s 1959 national championship team.
A three-time All-American as a defenseman at Johns Hopkins who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, his father, Hank, who played for Hopkins in the late 1960s, is also in the Hall of Fame, as is Hank’s father, Bud.
Longtime proprietor of the beloved Mount Washington Tavern, he attended the Gilman School before the 1974 grad of Washington and Lee College became a three-time All-American there.
This Boys’ Latin and Johns Hopkins grad was a three-time All-American goalie in 1978, ’79, and ’80.
Harry “Mac” Ford
A Gilman grad who went south to play collegiately at The University of North Carolina (class of ’85), he was three-time USCLA Player of the Year.
The 1993 and 1994 ACC Player of the Year graduated from The Severn School.
Now the head coach at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, this Australian native won four-straight NCAA national championships at the University of Maryland and was the first winner of the women’s Tewaaraton Award in 2001.
Nicknamed “Cookie,” Krongard attended Princeton and was the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association’s Man of the Year in 1983.
Kelly Amonte Hiller
“She took women’s lacrosse to a new level,” says Finn of the longtime U.S. national team goalie and offense player, who won the Atlantic Coast Conference Female Athlete of the Year award in 1996 while playing for the University of Maryland.
The youngest of three generations of Morrills in the Hall of Fame—he was inducted in 2016—this St. Paul’s School and Johns Hopkins grad was a collegiate All-American.
A graduate of Friends School Baltimore, this three-time All-American attackman lost only one game at Johns Hopkins. He was inducted in 1978.
A professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins who was inducted in 1962, he also coached the lacrosse team to five national championships.
The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum, located at 2 Loveton Circle in Sparks, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free.
Let the Lax Games Begin!
The last time lacrosse was a medal sport in the Olympics, The Johns Hopkins University was asked to send its team to represent the United States. It was unable to do so, and Canada ultimately won gold at the 1908 competition in London. (Great Britain was the only other country that fielded a team.)
Aside from three instances in which it was an Olympic demonstration event—1928 and ’32, when Hopkins did show, and 1948, when Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute represented the U.S.—lacrosse has been absent from the world’s biggest sporting stage.
Its advocates are hoping to change that. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is currently reviewing an application that would grant the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) provisional recognition, the first step on a long and winding road to returning the sport to the Olympic Games.
“Inclusion in the Olympics is the apex achievement for any sport,” says Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of U.S. Lacrosse and vice president of the FIL. “When the IOC includes a sport, it instantly creates the credibility that we need, not only in nations where the sport is already being played, but in other nations where we’re trying to seed the sport.”
In the Byzantine world of the IOC, granting provisional recognition to a sport’s governing body is just the opening faceoff in a game that could take years, or even decades, to finish. If the FIL’s application is approved, then the organization’s goal becomes full recognition.
“Once that happens, then the question is about achieving inclusion in the Olympic program,” Stenersen says. “That’s a very different conversation. It’s very political and very business-focused. The IOC wants to maximize the monetization of its Olympic asset, so the question is going to be, how can we make money on lacrosse?”
One answer may be pushing new versions of the sport, altering the number of participants or reducing the time it takes to play a game into a tidy, one-hour TV window. (It usually takes about two hours now.) In October, four top international teams will visit the U.S. Lacrosse facility for training and games, and Stenersen says the group plans to experiment with the number of players on each side, the size of the field, and the length of the game to “see what we can learn.”
The earliest possible year we could see Olympic lacrosse—in some form—is 2024. If the games are held in Los Angeles, one of three cities competing for them, that may be the break the sport needs. The host country has flexibility in staging demonstration events.
“If L.A. gets that Olympic games,” Stenersen says, “we’ll work diligently to try to get the organizing committee to consider the sport native to the North American continent, rooted in native American religion for centuries.”
A Brainstorm Begets a Brand
After years of watching on the sidelines as her two boys played lacrosse, Glen Arm mom Jennifer Vick had plenty of time to make a fashion observation that would lead to a business venture: branded lax wear not just for teen boys, but for the whole family.
“I noticed more and more girls playing the sport, but they often played games and practices wearing boys’ lacrosse clothing,” says the 40-something Vick. “And it wasn’t just the girls with ill-fitting gear, but parents and young siblings wearing boy’s jerseys.”
Armed with a business administration degree from the University of Baltimore and 20 years of sales experience, but with no background in the sportswear industry, she took a crash course in fabric and design. Then, in 2012, she founded Lax So Hard, which offers all manner of lacrosse clothing and accessories to everyone from small children to adults of both sexes.
“We were looking at how we could incorporate the brand into a sport that’s growing so fast.” And since quality was important, she moved initial manufacturing from Florida back to Maryland to keep a close eye on things. Now the company, named after her family’s game-day rally cry, sells its branded offerings online, on amazon.com, and at smaller clothing stores in the Baltimore area. They also sell the products at lacrosse tournaments and events, where Vick sets up tented “stores” on the same sidelines where she first got the idea.
Vick has talked about expanding the line to attract fans of other sports. But she says she won’t abandon the company’s lacrosse roots.
“Lacrosse will always be first,” she says. “The players are loyal. The families are loyal. They always want to represent their sport.”
Coach Who Knows His Craft
So, you might ask, if the region has so many great lacrosse players, which coaches deserve the most credit for that?
Of course, making a judgment on who’s the “best” coach is a minefield of egos and subjective judgments, but we imagine that such a choice would look something like Chris Robinson, a guy with a record of wins that’s almost beyond belief.
Robinson, head coach at McDonogh School for the past 12 years, has compiled a 235-9 record, with his teams winning nine IAAM championships. So, with a record like that, maybe it’s not surprising that, for the past eight years, his McDonogh teams were number one in the country, racking up a 155-game winning streak.
He didn’t cut his coaching teeth at McDonogh, though. Before that, he was head coach at Howard County’s Mt. Hebron High School, winning five state championships, two number-one national rankings, and a 106-9-1 overall record.
Pretty hard to beat—as are his teams.